By J C Suresh
TORONTO (IDN) – A group of eminent scientists has issued a terse warning that to prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual. “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out,” they caution, backed by 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries.
In ‘A Second Notice’ to Humanity, published in the latest issue of BioScience, William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Mauro Galetti Mohammed Alamgir, Eileen Crist, Mahmoud I. Mahmoud, and William F. Laurance, write: “This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning.”
In 1992 The Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued ‘World Scientists Warning to Humanity’ and called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.”
The ‘World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity’ expressed concern about current, impending, or potential damage on planet Earth involving ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth.
Looking back, the scientist say in A Second Notice that since 1992, “with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse.”
In their ‘Warning’ 25 years ago, the scientists stressed the need for stabilizing the human population, described how large numbers – swelled by another 2 billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase – were exerting stresses on Earth that could overwhelm other efforts to realize a sustainable future. They implored humankind to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and phase out fossil fuels, reduce deforestation, and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity.
The authors of the Second Notice write: “Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agricultural production – particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption.”
Besides, a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, has been unleashed, threatening many current life forms, which could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.
In their article for BioScience, the scientists warn that humankind is jeopardizing its future by not reining in intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats.
“By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere,” the scientists warn.
They call upon fellow scientists, media influencers, and lay citizens to put pressure on their governments to “take immediate action as a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life.”
It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviours, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources, they add.
A change in behaviours is possible as evidenced by the rapid global decline in ozone-depleting substances. “We have also made advancements in reducing extreme poverty and hunger (www.worldbank.org). Other notable progress (which does not yet show up in the global data include the rapid decline in fertility rates in many regions attributable to investments in girls’ and women’s education (www.un.org/esa/population), the promising decline in the rate of deforestation in some regions, and the rapid growth in the renewable-energy sector.”
While humankind has learned much since 1992, “the advancement of urgently needed changes in environmental policy, human behavior, and global inequities is still far from sufficient.”
Sustainability transitions come about in diverse ways, and all require civil-society pressure and evidence-based advocacy, political leadership, and a solid understanding of policy instruments, markets, and other drivers, the scientists add.
They list examples of diverse and effective steps humanity can take to transition to sustainability:
(a) Prioritizing the enactment of connected well-funded and well-managed reserves for a significant proportion of the world’s terrestrial, marine, freshwater, and aerial habitats;
(b) Maintaining nature’s ecosystem services by halting the conversion of forests, grasslands, and other native habitats;
(c) Restoring native plant communities at large scales, particularly forest landscapes;
(d) Rewinding regions with native species, especially apex predators, to restore ecological processes and dynamics;
(e) Developing and adopting adequate policy instruments to remedy defaunation, the poaching crisis, and the exploitation and trade of threatened species;
(f) Reducing food waste through education and better infrastructure;
(g) Promoting dietary shifts towards mostly plant-based foods;
(h) Further reducing fertility rates by ensuring that women and men have access to education and voluntary family-planning services, especially where such resources are still lacking;
(i) Increasing outdoor nature education for children, as well as the overall engagement of society in the appreciation of nature;
(j) Divesting of monetary investments and purchases to encourage positive environmental change;
(k) Devising and promoting new green technologies and massively adopting renewable energy sources while phasing out subsidies to energy production through fossil fuels;
(l) Revising our economy to reduce wealth inequality and ensure that prices, taxation, and incentive systems take into account the real costs which consumption patterns impose on our environment; and
(m) Estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal.
“We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home,” the scientists. [IDN-InDepthNews – 17 December 2017]
Photo: Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. The tropical rainforests of South America contain the largest diversity of species on Earth, including some that have evolved within the past few hundred thousand years. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
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